From many accounts, 2012 has been The Year of Change. I’ve heard many stories from people regarding the changes in their lives, and a lot of these changes do not feel good. In fact, many people suffered outright this year. So, what’s up? From the end of the Mayan calendar to preachers talking about Armageddon, all signs point to an “end of days”. Hmmm, we all made it through 12/21/12. But an end of days may not necessarily be about rapture and hellfire. Maybe it’s an end of days as we know it, which heralds, not brimstone, but change. And maybe instead of digging our heels into the ground in painful resistance, we should embrace what these changes mean for us.
What does this have to do with writing? Heck if I know. I just thought the subject should be discussed.
I think cavemen suffered a lot. Think about a skinned knee or an infection before Neosporin. Our advances in medicine and technology and agriculture and in just about everything else have given us a sense of ease. It’s easy to go buy a steak and throw it on the grill. Think about if you had to actually kill a cow to get it. Could you kill the cow? You probably could if you were hungry. But maybe having to kill a cow would make some of us vegetarians. There’s a lot of blood involved in killing something. Could you do it?
Because things are easy, we’ve become more and more afraid. You wouldn’t think that would happen. You would think we would become emboldened in our relative state of ease. In some ways, we are bolder. We’re haughtier with each other, that’s for sure. Some people have quite the sense of entitlement. But when you get farther and farther away from something, you forget how to deal with it. There was a time, not too long ago, where children died of childhood diseases. There was nothing a doctor could do. People lived relatively close to heartbreak, and yet they danced. They still found the heart to dance. They lived and enjoyed their lives. They reached out to other people and found comfort in sharing their woes. They created community because they all knew how fragile their lives were. Maybe they appreciated their lives that much more.
And that brings me back to suffering. ViktorFrankl wrote about suffering in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.” He says, “If there is meaning to life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life… without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”
Maybe the question isn’t, “What did I do to deserve this?” Maybe the question is, “Now, what?” The only thing left to do, is to deal with the catastrophe. And as much as we don’t like to suffer, that is when we begin to learn.
Of course, the first thing we need to do is take some responsibility for the things that befall us. It’s much easier to blame someone else for our problems. You lost your home, so you blame the bank that took it from you. You suffered. So did your family, most likely. But was there some part of your ego that was attached to that house? I mean, why stay in a place that you are fast not being able to afford? Was there something that stopped you from selling when you could? Denial is a pretty powerful force. I’ve seen it at work in my own life. But playing the victim is like staying in that relative, misguided, sense of ease. You’ll always be terrified of the unknown. Now, there are true victims. People who have inoperable cancer. Accident victims. Truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. But so many of these people become role models for coping. They don’t remain victims. They deal on an everyday basis with issues that terrify the rest of us. If 2012 has brought some of us closer to the precipice, maybe that wasn’t meant to be a horrible thing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to reevaluate our values. Maybe it was a little shakeup in a world fast becoming immune to suffering.
I went to an inter-faith program where the clergy spoke about the Book of Job. Job, of course, is the biblical poster-child for suffering. The main thing I got out of the lecture was what God says to Job when it’s all said and done. He says, in so many words, “Brace yourself.” Actually, the words are, “Gird up now thy loins like a man.” Maybe God meant, “Man up now.” And then God proceeds to berate Job. Again, in so many words, He asks Job why, throughout all his suffering, did Job not recognize any of the amazing things that God created? Okay, I’ll give you some examples… “Out of whose womb came the ice?” “Doth the hawk soar by thy wisdom?” “Will thou hunt the prey for the lioness?” At first, I wondered, in the midst of suffering, why would one care about ice, hawks, or lioness prey? I didn’t see the point. But at a second look, I realized that those amazing things are exactly what we should focus on in the midst of suffering. In the face of all that, Job admits he is but “dust and ashes.” Comparatively speaking.
Job’s humility. Well, there’s one for the guys with the sense of entitlement! Maybe I should throw a bible at the next driver who cuts me off on the freeway.
We can all use a little 2012 now and then. I hope your 2013 is filled with amazing things and that you reach out to your fellow man. While we may be “dust and ashes” and life may be fragile, the act of reaching out to others is infinitely strong.